Today I did a Google search for this term, “What is the Church of Christ pattern?” The search returned 905,000 hits. In most every case, the churches and individuals that came up in my sampling insist that the New Testament provides a “pattern” for worship which must be followed.

Interestingly, I could not find many who stated what the “pattern” is. Those in my sample who did define it included “pattern” components different from each other. Many patternists teach that the “pattern” extends far beyond worship, and their “pattern” is more elusive than the first.

No agreement as to definition

One Church of Christ insists that the five acts of worship (singing, praying, preaching, giving, and the Lord’s Supper) are the pattern. So they will quote verses that support those five things. Another Church of Christ will add baptism for the remission of sins and singing only a cappella to the pattern of “the one true church.” Still another adds to the “pattern” a requirement that only the King James Version of the Bible be used in public readings. The width and breadth of the supposed “pattern” is limited only by the number of people who define it.

The problem with “patternism” is the pattern. If what devout patternists proclaim  is true, wouldn’t it make sense that it would be relatively easy to find in the Bible? I am well aware of many of the proof texts but I must ask, “Is everyone reading the same Bible?”

What about those earliest Christians who, for perhaps two generations, got along quite well before many of the proof texts were written, and for sure before they were widely distributed? Were those early believers not able to worship God acceptably?

When patternism becomes sin

The title of this article is rather strong indictment. Tell me I’m wrong. At least one book has been written, plus scores of articles in periodicals and on blogs, condemning North Richland Hills Church of Christ in Texas, for its decision to include instrumental music in one of many Sunday services.

The attitude of those passing judgment is simple: Forget all the Christian service this church provides in its community, forget its faithfulness to preach Christ, to baptize believers and to live holy, loving lives. No Sir! These Christians went outside the supposed “pattern” and are damned because of it.

It is one thing to decided what is permissible individually or for my congregation, but when I apply that standard to every other Christian, and then teach that they will be lost if they do not comply, I am guilty of teaching “another gospel” and commit a grievous sin.

I recently listed over 40 different issues about which some Churches of Christ have divided, refused to acknowledge each other as brothers, and condemned each other to hell-fire. In each case, one group insists the other violated “the pattern.” In each case, the folks condemning have concluded that what the other people are doing is “unauthorized,” which puts them in open rebellion against God and means they are lost.

When this happens, Patternism becomes a template for sin! Those who design the template require everyone who claims to follow Jesus to fit their exact template or be lost. In Jesus’ day, the patternists were called Pharisees. Among some Churches of Christ today, they are called “elders” and “preachers,” but they are cut from the same cloth.

Yes, there is one “pattern” we should apply to our lives as believers. His name is Jesus.